The Development of the Steam engine due to James Watt

Essay by Mark BennettCollege, UndergraduateA+, December 1996

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James Watt (1736 -1819) was a great British engineer and inventor, born in Greenock, Scotland. He is a most famous historical figure noted particularly for the development work he did on the steam engine in the 1760s. He so improved the steam engine invented by Newcomer that he made it a really effective source of power. The impact of his work was of such importance that he made an immense contribution to the Industrial Revolution. So honoured a figure was James Watt that the watt as a unit of electrical power was named after him.

He was born in January 1736, the son of an architect and shipbuilder. It is said that when James Watt was a child, he noticed that the steam in a boiling kettle repeatedly lifted its lid. Perhaps it was this memory that inspired him to improve the steam engine in later years. Certainly throughout his childhood he showed a great interest in machines and had a keen mathematical brain so that, by the age of 19 he was already at the University of Glasgow where he was employed as a scientific instruments maker.

In 1763, James Watt was asked at work one day to repair a model of a Newcomen engine. This event marked a vital turning point in history as Watt soon realised while completing the task that he could make the engine much more efficient, a realisation that was to have vital impact on the industrial revolution.

Steam power had been discovered by a man called Thomas Savey in 1698, but had only been put to any kind of use by Thomas Newcomen in 1720. Newcomen had designed an engine that used steam from the boiler that entered the cylinder, causing the piston to rise. When it reached the top, cold water was...